The accomplished Belgian directing duo of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne experience a career peak in the sublime Two Days, One Night. Their previous films like L’Enfant, The Son, and The Kid With a Bike all mined adolescence for drama and pathos, but Two Days, One Night finds plenty of both in the rigors of adulthood. Aided by a stellar central performance from Marion Cotillard, the Dardennes perfect their oft-stated themes of casual, everyday cruelty and the recognition of those moments.
The conclusion of the Planet of the Apes prequel trilogy takes heavy biblical inspiration in its story of series protagonist Caesar (Andy Serkis) leading his people to their land of milk and honey, or whatever the equivalent is for apes. Director Matt Reeves returns following his successful turn in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, but this time out, it’s darkest before the dawn. War for the Planet of the Apes features no idyllic interregnum before things deteriorate. There isn’t time for a peaceful bonding period between a younger Caesar and a kind James Franco like in Rise, or a prolonged demonstration of the cohesive ape society like in Dawn. Reeves is making a full-on war epic to match his film’s title, ramping up the stakes to survival or extinction for the titular apes or the humans they’re fighting against.
In the ongoing saga of George Lucas’ Star Wars, the eighth episode sets itself apart from the rest. In The Last Jedi, homage is subtly paid to older saga moments and characters as well as directors Rian Johnson’s and Lucas’ previous works and mentors, which is not new from the previous film, but this one is more complex and thought provoking than any other in the series.
The Last Jedi immediately continues from episode seven, The Force Awakens. Viewers get an answer from Luke Skywalker as Rey presents him with his old lightsaber, which may or may not be predictable but it is fitting.
Christopher Nolan takes a break from ponderous superhero epics and/or space operas to make one of the most compact and straightforward films of his career. Dunkirk eschews any of the speechifying or puzzle-box plotting that drags down films like Interstellar and Inception for a historical snapshot where the players are simply in one place and would like to get to another. While Nolan is shucking most of his crutches, he’s accentuating his strengths, particularly the generation of unbearable tension and the capturing of performances borne out of high stress. This distillation results in Nolan’s best film, an unmissable reclassification of what it means to be heroic.
When people hear about independent movies, they don’t usually think about nine-figure budgets and heavy visual effects. The connotation is one of quirk, small relationship drama, and emotional realism. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets may have been funded outside of the studio system, technically making it an indie film, but it has exactly none of the hallmarks of films that follow a similar financial path to release. If the advantage of making something outside of the system is to have fuller control over the end product, Luc Besson’s long-gestating passion project squanders that asset with an abysmal amount of toe-curling repartee. Valerian contains George Lucas-level dialogue and character, a neutralization of the George Lucas-level imagination and world-building that’s also on display. If the admittedly novel and unique environment is staffed with cardboard cutouts absent any charisma or human traits, why am I spending time in it?
A tense two-hander for the #metoo movement, Sophia Takal’s Always Shine finds two women turning on each other when their real enemy is the system they’re stuck in. She formulates two approaches to a world run by men: one of compliance and one of resistance. The former provides plenty of social and material rewards, while the latter allows for integrity and isolation, especially when compliance-demanding men are the gatekeepers. Through the lens of the present moment, Always Shine provides a vision of alternate realities. Its two protagonists are both actresses, but the intransigent one is the superior talent while the compliant one is far more successful. They’re longtime friends, but friends with this rotten core at the center of their relationship. Takal tracks the spread of this rot over the course of an ill-fated vacation.
Random projects from the MMC Universe.